Where's my t-shirt?
The one that says, "I survived language at FSI?" Yes, I can use the word survivor here, as this is something that I actually thought might be the end of me. However, I triumped in the end! Well, I lived, therefore I triumphed.
As you might remember, I was originally slated to take 8 weeks of the FAST course at FSI. This was all well and good until I realized just how basic the course would be. Having any knowledge of Spanish puts you slightly ahead of the curve and my one year of high school and two years of living in Caracas meant that the FAST course was not the optimal choice for me. After a very short class on the first day, I realized I had to speak with someone about changing classes. I had survival skills, I needed to work on writing skills, increased vocabulary, conversation skills and the like.
I managed to test out of the FAST course, however, with that came the loss of the first week of classes. A fair trade-off, but still a loss of a few days. Fast forward and 6 weeks later (as opposed to the original 7), I found myself sweating buckets in the waiting area of the testing department.
No, sweating buckets is not enough...sweating buckets, ready to pass out/dry heave, and in general, freaked out would be more accurate. The test was slated to be approximately two hours and afterwards I would theoretically be given a score that accurately measured my current level of Spanish in both speaking and reading.
(Insert two massively painful hours, with a brief respite during the reading part. One is not supposed to discuss the test, so the above is pretty much the only description you will read in this blog.)
In the end, I received a score. It wasn't necessarily what I wanted, but going into the exam, it was the exact score I felt I would receive. After all, I only had 5 weeks and 2 days of actual instruction (well, probably less, since several of those days were half days). Between losing a week on the front end and the last week of class, sick days, and holidays, I ended up being in class just slightly over half of the time I expected to be.
Now, I know...here is where Gentle Reader says, but...why, dear Spanish Learner, why were so you stressed when you are but a spouse? After all *your* job doesn't depend on your score!
If I heard one more time that I did not need to worry or stress about this class, I was going to lose it. If the score mattered so little, I would not have done any of the following:
- Took the class when I knew I would be completely on my own, because it was the only time I could take the class.
- Put my son in daycare, day after day after day, so that I could attend class and hopefully find time to study, when I wasn't also trying to find time to run my household and be two parents for my kids. Nor would I have spent a fortune on said daycare.
- I would not have stayed up until 2 a.m. every night studying so that I did not look like I was not taking the class as seriously as my fellow classmates (all FSOs). At BEST, I started my homework at 10:30 p.m., generally not until 11 p.m.
- I would not have been a stressed out basket case for the entire course, feeling that I was surely way behind everyone else, as I was busy being mom, dad, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur and student all wrapped up in one, while dealing with unexpected sick days and holidays.
- I would not have hauled myself to class even though I shouldn't have because I so feared getting behind due to illness (on my part or my kids).
If I was not concerned about a score, I would have taken the FAST course. It is primarily a survival course, though I'm sure it still would have helped. However, I would not have bothered being tested nor would I have put as much extra time into it.
It is expected, naturally, that many jobs for which I might be eligibile (within the embassy) will require a good, if not great level of Spanish. Of course, if I wish to work outside the embassy community, then my Spanish would also need to be that much higher. Since I would like to pursue, at some point, one of those paths, working myself to the point of exhaustion, taking the more demanding class and being tested for a score was the only option.
At no time did I ever consider this class anything but a mandatory experience. I did not view it as a lark or a luxury. To me, having a much better grasp of the language of our host country is simply part and parcel of life in the Foreign Service. So, at no time was it an option for me to view this as something I didn't need to stress about or not give it 100% of my time and attention. So to have heard time and time again that I didn't need to worry...was simply wrong.
I have given the whole experience much thought over the past few days. If I had to do it over again, would I? Abso-freakin-lutely. It was insanely tough, but one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. My teachers in no way treated me any differently than other students in my class. I had the exact same (very rigorous) test that everyone else had. I used the exact same learning materials and will continue to use to study on my own until we arrive in Managua.
Did I get the score I wanted? Well, no, but I don't think I had the time or ability to get that score with my circumstances.
So, while a 1+/2 may not sound like an amazing score to some, it means a great deal to me. It represents 5 weeks and 2 days of absolute insanity that resulted in me greatly increasing my Spanish language ability. It's not the 3/3 that I hope to have someday, but it's more than halfway there and certainly way more than I had on January 2. For the moment, that's good enough for me.